CO-REGULATION TAKES CENTRE STAGE AT CONSULTATIVE MEET
By Hillary Turyasingura
The need for a co-regulation of the media has dominated the consultative engagement on reforms of select media laws and practice in Uganda.
The consultative engagement organised by the Ministry of Information, Communications Technology and National Guidance, in conjunction with the Media Council of Uganda, was held on Thursday 28th November 2019 at Mestil Hotel in Kampala.
Journalists, members of the Media Council, Ministry of ICT and National Guidance, representatives from the United Nations Development Programme, the academia and other stakeholders attended the one-day meeting.
Professor Monicah Chibita, dean of the Faculty of Journalism and Communication at Uganda Christian University, who gave the Keynote Speech, stressed that amidst individualisation, freedom of speech and of expression as well as media freedom must be exercised rightly. She, therefore, called for the need to regulate the media in order for the public interest to be known without violating the rights of citizens.
Participants observed that the media in Uganda had not reached a level of self-regulation. They highlighted that there was need for all stakeholders to join efforts and make laws which will address the tremendous change from traditional to new media.
The Commissioner for Information Dissemination and Communication in the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance, Moses Watasa observed that the media was doing a great job in the country. However, he noted that everyone had become a journalist, heralding the need for statutory regulation.
This, he said, was a result of new technologies in the media space and many mistakes which called for co-regulation of the media. He explained that in some professions such as Medicine and Law self-regulation is made a necessity by the nature of what they do.
Annet Mpabulungi Wakabi, UNDP’s team leader on the Rule of Law and Constitutional Democracy Programme
The need for co-regulation was supported by the Media Council Chairperson, Paul Ekochu who was among the key speakers of the day. Panellists Dr Emily Maractho, a lecturer at Uganda Christian University, Peter Okello Jabweli, a member of the Media Council, and Giles Muhame, managing director of an online news site Chimpreports, among others, all called for co-regulation.
Annet Mpabulungi Wakabi, UNDP’s team leader on the Rule of Law and Constitutional Democracy Programme, represented the UNDP Resident Representative in Uganda, Elsie Attafuah. She also supported the co-regulation idea, noting that Uganda had over 18 million internet subscribers, with 14 million subscribers on mobile telephony. She said they could not be ignored.
The new Secretary to the Media Council who doubles as a Principal Information Officer in the Ministry of ICT and National Guidance, Kyetume Kasanga reminded participants that Government was committed to providing free access to public information. For that matter, he noted, Parliament had enacted the Access to Information Act as the enabling law.
For any enquiry or clarification, please, call Mr Paulo Ekochu, Chairman of the Media Council of Uganda on 0772 711711 or 0700711711 E-mail: email@example.com or the Secretary to the Media Council, Mr Kyetume Kasanga on 0772 516456 E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org and dkkasanga10@gmailcom.
The Media Council continues to regulate the content of the film industry by setting up a film Classification Secretariat in Communication house 3rd Floor Colville Street in Kampala.
The Council worked with Uganda Communications Commission (UCC) after it entered into a partnership to jointly regulate the film industry in the country.
The two institutions both have functions related to managing the film industry but have previously worked independent of each other. However, a memorandum of understanding for one year 2013 -2014 was signed to provide for the shared responsibility and resources to help streamline and develop the film and video industry in the country.
UCC provided office space on its premises on Communication House to accommodate the staff of Media Council responsible for film classification. The staff is expected to classify and censor films and videos to establish their appropriateness for audience viewing before they are showed to the public.
This move is intended to help promote development of the film industry and also protect the public from viewing undesirable content shown in places such as cinema and video halls scattered across the country.
Media Council, through the Press and Journalist Act CAP 105 is mandated to censor films, videotapes, plays and other related materials meant for public consumption.
Meanwhile the Uganda Communications Act 2013 allows UCC to license cinematography theatre, video and film libraries.
The power of the media and the advanced technological changes in the media industry call for better management and balanced freedoms.
This was highlighted by the Minister of Information and National Guidance Hon. Gen. Jim Muhwezi while meeting the Media Council members at his office in March 2016.
“The Media has greatly changed. Much as it plays a significant role as regards contributing to the direction of the country and the world at large,” the Minister pointed out; “ these changes where social media has gone viral, publication online are more than print newspapers, the media capability can be used well or used badly” he said.
The Minister urged the Media Council to look at the urgent need to manage the industry, and its capability not to be abused and the need to balance freedoms of media and as well as the public for the stability of the country to be maintained.
During the deliberations it was noted that the post elections of 2016 review of the Media brought out the role of the media as important but the Media Council has to play its responsibility as a Council not to have media be divisive while at the same time not to undermine the freedoms as per the Ugandan laws.
Hon. Jim Muhwezi said the Ministry is looking into reviewing the media laws in order to empower the regulatory body and make an authority strong enough to improve training of journalists, improved support of media houses and media practitioners to engage the public in development.
The Meeting noted the urgency to address the professional conduct of journalists especially regarding their qualifications and the need to plan for mandatory refresher courses for the Media just like other professional bodies like lawyers undertake periodically.
The Chairperson of the Media Council Mr. Paulo Ekochu noted that while the Council was majorly setup as a complaint based, efforts are being made to make it proactive. He welcomed the review of the media laws to empower the regulatory body and improving the support of Media houses and practitioners to carry out their role more professionally.
Members of the course agreed on a continuous engagement of the Media with increased sensitization about media laws. They emphasized that media practitioners need to be made more aware about the implications of their actions, how to apply their rights and how not to infringe on other people’s rights.
The Meeting agreed to focus on Media as a strong player in sustaining development of the country with provision of timely, accurate and correct information within the advancing information technology; a strong pillar in building the image and marketing of Uganda.
The Media Council is currently comprised of Mr Paul Ekochu Chairperson, Dr Katebalirwe Amooti Wa Irumba, Mr. Michael Kawooya Mwebe, Ms Linda Nabusayi Wamboga, Mr Peter Okello Jabweri, Mrs Assumpta Kemigisha Sebunya, Mr Venis Omona, Members and Mr. Pius Mwinganisa Secretary.